By Jeremy Burns
There are few thriller authors writing today who have had more widespread success than NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Heather Graham. In a writing career that has already spanned decades (and shows no signs of slowing down), she has written thrillers and other novels from a myriad of genres and subgenres: historical, paranormal, romantic, crime, and more. Her latest book, a new entry in her hit Krewe of Hunters series, is a paranormal thriller with a historical twist. Heather recently took time out of her decidedly busy writing schedule to sit down with THE BIG THRILL to answer some questions about her newest book.
Tell us a little about yourself and your new thriller, THE UNSPOKEN.
THE UNSPOKEN is part of loosely related books that all have to do with the Krewe of Hunters, in this case, the Texas Krewe (because they first met on a case in Texas). The “Krewes” are FBI units who all have special abilities–some kind of ESP. I love history and the concept that maybe there is something more out there (I forget the statistic; we only use a minute amount of our brain capacity) and that some of us learn or are born with ability to tap into it. On the history side–I bring these books to cities I love and I hope the cities are characters in the books–enough to make those who haven’t been there yet want to go.
THE UNSPOKEN involves all sorts of intriguing and elements: ancient Egyptian curses, ghost shipwrecks, underwater exploration, and the like. What sort of research did you do for this book? Any interesting stories there?
I researched ancient Egypt and Great Lake shipwrecks and Chicago history. I am a diver, but I’m from Florida and it fascinated me–just how many ships had gone down in the Great Lakes and how treacherous the lakes could be–and how many wrecks were still undiscovered. My mother immigrated from Dublin with her family and they wound up in Chicago so as a child I was there every other summer. I think I was traumatized the first time I saw the mummies at the Field Museum. And I had a great opportunity to be back in the city right when I was working on the book, so all that was great. It is fiction, of course, and there are still cases going on in court regarding salvage from Lake Michigan so I tried to be careful. Chicago is a great city. I love the saying there–thank God for the wretched weather or everyone would want to live here!
What makes THE UNSPOKEN different from your previous novels?
I recently heard the term “supernatural thriller” and I like it–so, in that context, I’ve written several in the same line. The books stand differently because the history and people involved are all different–as well as what is learned in every book. The first in this group was THE UNSEEN, San Antonio, and then there was THE UNHOLY, Los Angeles area, and the last book in the series will be THE UNINVITED, which takes place in Philadelphia and involves a historic home that opens to tourists and deals with the British occupation of the city during the Revolution.
What was your initial inspiration for THE UNSPOKEN? How did the story’s premise develop through the early days of your writing process?
I’d read an article on the massive amount of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. Since I’ll always think of the Field Museum when I think of Chicago–and those mummies!–it seemed natural to put them all together.
How much of yourself do you place in your characters? With which character in THE UNSPOKEN do you most identify?
The mummy? Just kidding. I think there’s a certain amount of most writers in their main characters because of our own beliefs and morals. I probably lean on my daughter-in-law with the character of Kat–Zhenia came from the Ukraine when she was twelve. I have a tendency to use Irish or Scottish characters because those are the ones I grew up with. It was great to use Kat–and Will Chan from an earlier book. My Arthur Murray dance instructor is a Trinadadian and I loved hearing about his culture. Thus–Will!
Which character was the most fun for you to write? Why?
Kat. She’s tiny and tough!
What is your favorite book you’ve written thus far (other than THE UNSPOKEN)? Why?
Oh, no, no, no. A publisher told me long ago that your new book out is your favorite book! But! I’ve enjoyed different books for different reasons. NIGHT OF THE BLACKBIRD because I tackled a few demons from my past and really made use of whacky Irish relatives (straight suspense), PHANTOM EVIL (introduces the first Krewe), BENEATH A BLOOD RED MOON (my concept of vampires years ago,) and an historical series–ONE WORE BLUE, AND ONE WORE GRAY, and AND ONE RODE WEST. I tried to make war about people–and find sense in the way that people thought and viewed the world. I’m having fun now with a new, once-a-year stand-alone series that utilizes a character who flatlined after a life of debauchery and came back with a passion to right wrong along with a character who loses her father–only to discover he led a secret life collecting or destroying objects that might have retained an element of evil. The first book will come out in April–LET THE DEAD SLEEP.
What is your favorite book by another author? Why?
I have too many! But, oddly enough, to name one–it isn’t a thriller. It’s KILLER ANGELS by Michael Shaara. One of the best I’ve ever read in the creation of characters and the visualization of characters.
Other than writing, do you have any unique talents or skills?
Hm. Got out of college as a theater major and did dinner theater and commercials for many years. I’m a smashing singing, tap-dancing, menu-chanting, rib waitress. I love to dive and I love boats–and I still love ballroom dancing.
What is your favorite travel destination? Why?
I have far too many favorite destinations. I love Scotland (my dad’s homeland) and Ireland (my mom’s.) Italians are incredible and fun and they love it when you speak their language–even badly. I’m fond of Caribbean Islands. In the states–New Orleans. I was young when I first went. I loved the houses and the cemeteries and the people. I’m still crazy about the city and put on Writers for New Orleans every year. (Plug here: December 14th, 15th, and 16th this year, with David Morrell, Jonathan Maberry, and Eileen Dryer as special guests, the Slushpile Theater is putting on Vampires of the Titanic on Christmas Eve and a ton of great workshops with editors, agents, and screen agents. Please check it out–www.WritersForNewOrleans.com.)
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
Everything! Books are deductible–and writers are the most generous and wonderful people in the world. Doing this for a living is a privilege–I never forget that nor that I am incredibly grateful for the career that I’ve had.
You are one of the most prolific authors working today, with over 150 books in print across several genres. How do you find the time to write so extensively while still maintaining the high level of quality your millions of fans have come to expect from a Heather Graham novel?
I work as if I were living in a Dr. Seuss novel–on a train, on a plane, in a car, going far! I’m thankful to my children–I started before they were all born and I learned (as many do!) as long as you can hear them, everything is all right. Makes it easy to work anywhere.
What is one thing that would surprise your fans about you or your writing process?
At home? It all takes place in the dining room. And the dining room is one major disaster!
What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring/new authors who look up to you?
Never forget to keep working, especially when you’ve just sent something out. Of course, it’s a new world, too. If you’re going to go it alone, remember that you need someone who can really edit/copy edit, create a great cover, and market. Someone who will tell you when something isn’t believable–someone who won’t BS you. So, hm, that is, of course, a publisher. But if you really believe in a project and it hasn’t found a home, just make sure you do it the right way. Also, hey, that’s what conventions across the world are for–we can never stop learning. Oh, and a major suggestion on my part–never forget to read. Most people write because they love to read so much. If you forget to read–even when you’re busy–you can too easy forget the magic that is books–and why you want to write so much!
What can we expect next from Heather Graham and where can fans go to hear the latest news?
I’m happy to say that BENEATH A BLOOD RED MOON is being reprinted in fall along with two Christmas books. Oh! THE UNINVITED follows next month. And I’m really excited about LET THE DEAD SLEEP coming in April (end of March) and the next Krewe books that will be on the market next summer. I’m on Facebook all the time (Heather Graham, author, and Heather Graham Pozzessere) and my web site is www.eheathergraham.com. Also, please, if you’ve yearned to see New Orleans with a bunch of your new best friends, please check out Writers For New Orleans!
Many thanks to Heather Graham for stopping by and giving us a sneak peak behind the curtain. Be sure to check out THE UNSPOKEN (as well as the rest of the Krewe of Hunters series) for another history-infused supernatural thrill ride from this legendary author. Just be sure to set some time aside: she’s got a tremendous back catalog that you’ll want to catch up on once you’re hooked!
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heather Graham has written more than a hundred novels. She’s a winner of the RWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Thriller Writers’ Silver Bullet. She is an active member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America.